Thursday, April 29, 2004

I suspect other people's brains may be cooler than mine

Dan Engber recaps the Decade of the Brain and the plethora of brain–mind books it spawned:

Indeed, when any work of popular neuroscience inevitably appeals to the stunning complexity of the human brain, it all amounts to the same thing: Hey, that's my brain they're talking about. And it's fucking amazing.

Nature or nurture? Self-determination or biological fact?

Both, obviously.

Ten years later a new breed of neurological self-help books has emerged.

John J. Ratey's User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain explains how "activities actually expand the number and strength of neural connections devoted to a skill." Richard Restak's Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot: Unleashing Your Brain's Potential assures readers that "moment-to-moment actions sculpt the brain's structure and function," and Schwartz and Begley go to great lengths to remind us that self-directed therapy can "literally reprogram your brain."

This is an exciting concept, until you realize how trite it is. . . We hardly need evidence of shifting cortical maps to confirm what we already know: that skills improve with practice, and that it's possible to learn new things.

Try as I might, I just can't seem to make my brain appreciate self-help books of any kind. Is there a book on that?

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